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Southwestern States Mission: Mission Presidents at General Conference

By: Edje Jeter - April 22, 2012

In the early 1900s mission presidents addressed the general conference of the Church.

At least twice per year during his tenure (except, perhaps, 1901) Mission President Duffin took the two-day train trip from Kansas to Utah for the (usually) three-day conference. A typical trip lasted four to six weeks. In addition to the general conference, Duffin met publically and privately with various general authorities and other mission presidents to report on and plan missionary efforts. He also visited his family and tended to personal business.

As others have noted elsewhere, General Conference in the early 1900s involved more “conferring” than it now does. The Conference Reports note motions, votes, dissents, and other elements of an interactive meeting. Although the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Seven Presidents of the Seventy took most of the time, various others also spoke. [1]

I discern no pattern to when or in which venue the Mission Presidents spoke and have not analyzed the content of their talks. After his release as mission president, Duffin spoke in three additional conferences (but only outdoors or in the Assembly Hall).

Below are graphs showing the relative percentages of each Conference Report occupied by speakers from various organizations. The first graph shows percentages for only the Tabernacle sessions; the second shows all sessions. [2]



The “Southwestern States Mission” series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall’s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here.

[1] Speakers included mission presidents, stake presidents, assistant church historians, bishops, the Presiding Patriarch, temple presidents, and a handful of others whose ecclesiastical office (if any) I have not identified. If I have counted correctly, 140 individuals addressed sessions of the general conference held in the Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, or on the temple grounds, from the 1897 October meeting to the 1909 April meeting, inclusive. In this time span three sisters addressed outdoor overflow sessions.

[2] The “organizations” are First Presidency (3 members), Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (12), Seven Presidents of the Seventy (7), Mission Presidents, Stake Presidents, and Other. The last three are not “organizations,” per se. There were about five US missions (with shifting boundaries, names, and leadership) and five non-US missions represented and, by 1909, about fifty stakes.

The graphs are in “first draft” condition. They are based on quick estimates of the column length of each talk with organization membership as of the sustaining of officers in each respective conference. I excluded the sustaining of officers and the report from the Sunday School Conference. In some of the Conference Reports the outdoor talks are only summarized and are, therefore, not included in the totals.

My apologies to extremely color-sensitive or color-insensitive readers; I fiddled with the color scheme for a couple of hours before saying, “It’s just a blog post,” and surrendering my effort to make something clear, pleasant, and unambiguous.



8 Comments

  1. You succeeded with the “clear, pleasant, and unambiguous” format, Edje — although I knew conferences heard from people we don’t usually hear from today, I hadn’t ever thought about how much or little they heard from such people.

    The bit about speaking outdoors or in the Assembly Hall might need a little explanation for some readers, no? although it’s obvious once explained. Before meetings could be broadcast by radio or TV to other places, even other buildings on Temple Square, additional speakers beyond those in the Tabernacle would give a completely different set of talks in the Assembly Hall, and even to groups of people sitting or standing around on the grounds of Temple Square. It seems to me that such speakers, especially outdoors, were generally lower-tier leaders (I’ve seen talks by MoTab Choir director Evan Stephens to the outdoor crowd, I think) — but those talks were considered part of the Conference and were transcribed and printed in the Conference Reports just the same as the First Presidency talks inside the Tabernacle.

    Is there anything else that should be said about that? Or corrected in what I’ve written here?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 22, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  2. Wow. Look at that April 1903 conference. Very striking. The variations between conferences are very different from modern conferences which are very predictable.

    Comment by Amy T — April 22, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  3. Thanks, Ardis and Amy.

    Ardis, your summary of overflow sessions matches my understanding. Thanks for explaining it for us.

    A transcript was not always prepared for the overflow sessions, whether in the Assembly Hall or on the grounds. Also, unlike now, they didn’t always have overflow sessions.

    If I’ve counted correctly… from 1897 Oct to 1909 Apr the Conference Reports included full transcripts* of all 145 of the Tabernacle sessions, 28 of the 30 Assembly Hall sessions, and 5 of the 11 outdoor sessions. The graphs above ignore sessions that were not transcribed and thus under-estimate the participation of Mission Presidents and Stake Presidents.

    *I didn’t read the talks; the ones I read sounded like full transcripts and the others looked similar.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 22, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  4. Amy:

    I agree that the variability is striking and that 1903 stands out. I have a hard time imagining a conference with almost no Apostles speaking.

    One trend that I don’t think we have any more is that the Apostles _generally_ spoke in order of precedence. It wasn’t a hard rule, but it’s consistent enough to call a pattern. Sometimes the went in ascending and sometimes descending order.

    I hypothesize, with no evidence and without having looked into it at all, that the smaller percentages of Quorum of the Twelve talks from 1901 to 1906 are somehow related to the Smoot hearings, the Second Manifesto, and the resignations from the quorum in 1905.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 22, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

  5. Great stuff, as usual Ed.

    *I didn’t read the talks; the ones I read sounded like full transcripts and the others looked similar.

    Slacker. :)

    Comment by Christopher — April 23, 2012 @ 7:17 am

  6. Analysis, graphs, and extensive footnotes: this is the Edge we know and love. Well done.

    Comment by Ben P — April 23, 2012 @ 7:30 am

  7. […] The “Southwestern States Mission” series uses the diaries of six missionaries who served in eastern Texas around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin and Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall’s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: Heathens and Home Missions — April 29, 2012 @ 12:06 am

  8. I have a hazy memory about someone writing a dissertation about General Conference, and I think it could have been referenced or talked about in an article from a Church magazine from the 1970’s-might have some more info. What also I find interesting is in the April 1909 a sister Lillian V. Jones a recent RM from the Southern States Missionbore her testimony at the conference and I would like to know why that was and how she got to be asked.

    Comment by whizzbang — April 29, 2012 @ 11:25 pm